Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review of The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Yancey, R. (2013).  The 5th Wave.  New York, NY:  G.P. Putnam's Sons.

The 5th Wave is a young adult sci-fi novel by Rick Yancey that follows 16 year old Cassie Sullivan as she struggles to survive in a world that has been invaded by hostile aliens.  A mothership arrives above Earth one day and hangs in the atmosphere as everyone speculates what will happen next.  Then the first 1st Wave, or attack, arrives in the form of a total EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) attack, shutting down all electronic communications including cell phones and power grids.  Many die from the resulting car and plane crashes.  The second wave consists of alien-induced earthquakes and tsunamis that wipes out the coastal populations.  The third wave is a highly infectious plague transmitted by birds that kills 97 percent of the remaining survivors on Earth, including Cassie's mom.  When the book opens, Earth is in the middle of the 4th Wave.  The few surviving humans are being picked off by snipers that Cassie has ominously named Silencers.  The main rule of surviving the 4th Wave is to trust no one.  The aliens understand the human instinct to horde, and are taking advantage of this to kill.  Anyone that you meet may be a Silencer.

After a tragedy at the refugee camp that her family found shelter at, Cassie finds herself alone and on the run with an M-16 and a Luger for safety.  She wonders in her journal if she is the last human on Earth. She scrounges for food at abandoned stores, risking death by drone strikes or sniper attacks, and hides in the woods at night.  The only thing that can overcome her fear is the need to find her little brother, Sam, and she sets out on a dangerous journey to save him.  Along the way she meets Evan Walker, a handsome, intriguing young man who may not be what he seems.  Cassie now knows that she is not, in fact, the last person alive on Earth, but finds herself torn between the 4th Wave rule of trusting no one, and relying on him because she needs his help to find Sam.  Halfway through the book, the story shifts to focus on the fate of one of Cassie's classmates, Ben Parrish.  A tension-filled, harrowing journey ensues culminating with Cassie and Ben's lives intersecting in an explosive (literally) climax.

In addition to several award-winning books for young adults, including The Extraordinary Adventures of  Alfred Kropp, which was a Carnegie Medal finalist, Rick Yancey has also written several adult novels and a memoir.

The 5th Wave has enjoyed an immensely positive reception from both critics and readers.  It is being compared to Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games because of some of the similarities in plot elements, and is on pace to enjoy the same popularity.  It is the first in a promised trilogy, again drawing a comparison to Hunger Games.  Like Hunger Games, The 5th Wave is officially categorized as a young adult novel but is strong enough that it is being well-received by older readers.  As a teacher, I would recommend this book for older students, 9th grade and above because of mature language and the intensity of the subject matter.  Because the characters spend so much time alone, this would be a great novel to use to explore character development with students.  The length of the novel (457 pages) may be off putting for reluctant and/or struggling readers but the fast pace and mystery of the plot make it a easier read.

As a reader, I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of sci-fi and survivalist fiction.  Although the basic plot of aliens taking over Earth seems played out, Yancey deal with this in a unique and refreshing way.    The disaster takes Cassie literally overnight from being a regular teenager worried about dating, school, and socializing, into a fugitive fighting for survival and trying to save what is left of her family.  The forced introspection and emotional growth of Cassie and Ben causes them to reach some mature conclusions about human nature, the force of human will against the odds, and what really matters in life.  Readers will have the chance to think about their own beliefs about the choices that they would make in similar circumstances and what they would be capable of doing in the name of survival.

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